Building the Model 21st Century Youth Exchange Program? Piece of Cake.

Cake

For YES Program participants, using new technologies and performing community service is not just icing on the cake, it’s baked right into their programs from the outset. Photo: American Councils Bakery.

On December 12, 2012, the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program will host a world-wide virtual Kickoff Party commemorating its 10th year.  iEARN-USA is excited to join the event, which will will honor the 6,000 plus alumni community from 45 countries including the United States, host families, host schools, host communities, current YES students, U.S. and overseas partner organizations who administer and implement YES, the U.S. Department of State, and U.S. Congress, especially the late Senator Kennedy and Senator Richard Lugar.

The YES Program is a program sponsored by the Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It brings high school students from countries with significant Muslim populations to spend an academic year in the US. iEARN has been a partner since the program’s first year, and is currently responsible for recruitment of students from Arab-Israel, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Liberia, Mali, Pakistan, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Suriname. IEARN also manages the YES web site and provides other technology support for the program.

On a personal note, I was honored to have been invited to help develop the first draft of the program in December 2002, and attend first training and orientation meeting for the program at the AYUSA office in San Francisco in April 2003. Highlights of that meeting included attending a special screening of The Olive Harvest, a film by my iEARN Palestianian colleague, Hanna Elias, and attending Friday Prayer at the Masjid Darussalam Mosque. For me, those two activities help set the tone for the program.
filmposter2

Specifically, that the program would, 1) leverage communication technologies and video storytelling as important tools for participants and alumni to enhance and deepen their exchange experience; and, 2) encourage community service as a core element of the program. The critical need to engage the Muslim world aside, I believe the focus on embracing new collaborative technologies, like iEARN’s online platforms and ExchangesConnect’s online forum, social media, and community service has distinguished the YES Program as the model youth exchange program for the beginning of this century.

Blood banks YES Alumni in Senegal rose to the occassion and answered the call to action.

The National Blood Drive Center in Senegal consistently experiences large blood deficits. Moved by the deficit, YES Alumni in Senegal rose to the occassion and answered the call to action.

Like all exchange programs, YES has had its disappointments and heartbreaks. Tens of thousands of high quality applicants are turned away each year. Travel is expensive and visa processing in most YES countries is a long slog. The investment in the YES Program and other innovative programs, however, is critical. YES is clearly meeting the needs of young people in the region. YES is also building the people-to-people relationships so needed today. There is also a certain something about the program that is hard to pin down. Something extraordinary happens when tech-savvy, community-service driven young people from predominantly Muslim countries, several with special needs, live for a year in the homes of American families and study at American high schools. Something extraordinary happens to the host families.

Azima, who was born with no hands and no legs below the knees, was participating in a ropes challenge course with other YES students with disabilities, as part of a weeklong orientation with Mobility International USA, in Eugene, OR.

Azima, who was born with no hands and no legs below the knees, was participating in a ropes challenge course with other YES students with disabilities, as part of a weeklong orientation with Mobility International USA, in Eugene, OR.

During the past ten years, it has been a pleasure to work with our partners, meet participants, make presentations, Tweet, and blog about the impact of the YES Program, from its origins after 9/11 to alumni-designed Youth TechCamps Most satisfying to me, however, are the amazing community service projects, presentations, Tweets, blogs, and videos created by the YES participants and alumni. I was an exchange student on a good program, but not like YES. YES is something special.
Congratulations to everyone. A small gift to you: a mini YES film festival:

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6 responses to “Building the Model 21st Century Youth Exchange Program? Piece of Cake.”

  1. Farah Kamal says :

    Great write up Dave, and your 3rd paragraphs took me down memory lane, my first trip to San- Francisco April of 2003 to attend the training at AYUSA.
    I came a long way from 2002 when I worked with iearn-usa team planning the project to 2012 when I am heading the worlds largest KLYES10 program.

    • David Potter says :

      Just read your Tweet where iEARN-Pakistan received 4,800 applications for your YES Program’s 108 slots next year. Wow. We need a way to empower the 4,000+ non-travelers who might be amazing participants for a virtual program of some sorts.

  2. Hassan says :

    Great stuff! Nice compilation of all the videos under one blog-post.
    Also, check out the following video. While YES Alumni KPK were engaged in doing community services, they were also involved in doing training sessions with school students. Thank you!
    Link: http://vimeo.com/58470244#

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